What Careers Are in Criminal Justice?

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These are no longer the days of the wild west and the lone lawman. Careers in criminal justice and law enforcement are now varied and many. So, what are some of the choices one might find available in this wide world of criminal justice careers today? Here is an introductory sample list to help give anyone great ideas for entry into this rewarding field.

Municipal Police Officer

We are all familiar with police officers. These professionals maintain order on the streets and fulfill a noble necessity in every society. As a police officer, one can continue to gain tenure and rank within the position or change roles and work in additional roles in the police department. Detectives, police commissioners, sheriffs, and other executive law enforcement positions are typically filled by tenured police officers.

Private Investigator

Private investigative work is often used in court and other legal matters. In such work, a private investigator, often referred to as a PI, will act as a detective to seek certain evidence. Following paper trails, seeking documents and physical evidence, and even surveillance work is all part of the job. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows this position as one expected to grow at a faster than average rate of around 10% in coming years.

Forensic Science Technician

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Forensic science is the scientific dissection of evidence in a law enforcement application. Bones, DNA, fingerprints, shell casings, and all types of other natural and synthetic substances are the regular study targets of forensic science technicians. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also considers this criminal justice career as one of the fastest growing, at a growth rate of approximately 17% over the coming years.

Probation/Parole Officers

Probation and parole are measures of the court taken to monitor someone’s ongoing activities in society. Someone freshly released from prison, or paroled, must regularly report to a parole officer who monitors their activities for a given time thereafter. In probation, someone is given a probationary status as punishment, and a probation officer must then track their activities thereafter. Each of these professionals plays a vital part in the criminal justice and corrections systems alike.

Corrections Officer

Corrections officers go by many names – prison guards, wardens, jail-keepers, and more. No matter the name used for them, however, these professionals perform the important job of maintaining order and security at any of the nation’s prisons or jail facilities. Working in this role also provides one with access to a hierarchical ladder similar to that found in police departments, rich in opportunity for role and responsibility changes.


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The bailiff is the keeper of the courtroom. This important officer stands present over courtroom proceedings, assuring peace and order in the most tense of legal standoffs and routine proceedings alike. Bailiffs are a specialized type of law enforcement officer and are often employed by the local sheriff’s office specifically.

US Marshal

US Marshals are federal law enforcement officers. These highly respected individuals can make arrests in any of the 50 states and travel around seeking fugitives and investigating the possibility of other criminal happenings. While marshals often work alone in many respects, they still cooperate and work to a great extent with other law enforcement agencies in the spirit of the end goal – justice and order.

Bounty Hunter

Bounty hunters work in a largely private capacity to hunt down and capture various fugitives from justice. As a bounty hunter, one may work on their own, or they may work for an actual organization. Most often, professional bounty hunters are employed by bail bond companies in which they track down those who have taken out substantial loans for court costs, such as bail, but have then run away instead of satisfying their contractually-bound obligations. Those who work on their own in the bounty hunter capacity rely on public bounty rewards for their ultimate pay source once their targets are successfully captured.

Professor in Criminal Justice

For those seeking a less action-packed but still very important role in the criminal justice system, working as a professor in criminal justice can provide just the right placement. As a professor, one works for a college or other, educational entity teaching future and current criminal justice professionals. While this is more of a behind-the-scenes role, those working in this capacity often make an exceptional salary while also staying out of direct danger. Despite the subject matter taught, the Bureau of Labor Statistics cites such postsecondary teachers as earning a median pay of about $79,540 each year.

Criminal Court Judge

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The judicial system is where criminality is ultimately handled, and criminal courts, the specific courts that handle matters of criminality, make up a substantial portion of all courts in the US. Accordingly, there is plenty of need for workers in this arena. One very important worker here is the criminal court judge. To become such a judge, one must complete law school and usually must also serve as an attorney for some time prior. Prosecutors and defense attorneys also make up a substantial portion of this court-based criminal justice workforce.

Border Patrol Officer

Border patrol officers are much like regular law enforcement officers except that, as their name suggests, these special officers work almost entirely along the US borderlines. The primary role played here is that of securing the border from illegal crossings, whether into or out of the country. Off of the border, these agents may be found working in various locations to help track those suspected of illegal crossings or illegal trafficking of some sort that involves illegal crossings.

Federal Officer

Federal officers are much like the above-mentioned municipal police officers, but these officers aren’t restricted to just a local municipality for their area of jurisdiction. Federal officers work for the federal government and thus have jurisdiction across all US territories and states to investigate and orchestrate arrests. Rather than going by the title “federal officer”, however, these law enforcement officials typically work for a specific federal organization, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation or Central Intelligence Agency for example and utilize specialized job titles therein, like the above-mentioned US Marshal.

State Police Officer

Below the federal level of police but above the municipal level exists the state police officer. Often referred to as “state troopers”, these officers hold jurisdiction across the entire state for which they work. State police have many functions and work with federal and municipal police forces alike in maintaining law and order. Most are familiar with seeing these types of officers patrolling the nation’s many interstate highways, but they also work anywhere in their respective states where their presence is needed in pursuing criminal issues.

White-Collar Crimes Investigator

The job title of white-collar crimes investigator is a rather sweeping one that describes many, individual roles, but in all of these types of jobs, the primary goal is that of stopping white-collar crime and enforcing the laws around it. White-collar crimes are those that involve various frauds that can be committed by businesses and government entities. The FBI lists numerous types of white-collar crime to include insurance fraud, corporate fraud, insider trading, illegal asset forfeiture schemes, and identity theft among others. Many organizations, from government agencies to private insurance companies and banks, employ these kinds of white-collar crimes investigators.

Game Warden

A game warden is a specialized law enforcement officer who primarily works to protect state assets like wildlife and plant life that is regulated by local, state, or federal law. While these officers do hold greater jurisdiction and the ability to arrest for any crime they may witness or prove, they mainly work in the country’s many conservation and rural areas. With their help, animal and plant life is given the protection it needs in order to assure a viable future.

Air Interdiction Agent

“Air Interdiction” is the term given to law enforcement efforts that are based in the air, in various aircraft. Typically, helicopters are the vehicle of choice for these efforts, and the title given to the law enforcement pilots and crews on these kinds of jobs is “air interdiction agent.” These specialized law enforcement workers take on a variety of important tasks such as emergency search and rescue operations, fugitive searches, traffic law enforcement, and even secretive surveillance missions. While rarely might this officer personally make an arrest, they make ground operations much more successful in all aspects when called upon.

Vocational Cross-Compatibility

Unlike many, other vocational areas, the criminal justice field offers a high degree of vocational cross-compatibility. This means that having experience and education in one area of criminal justice work will often suit one quite well to then work in other areas of criminal justice work, should they choose to make a career change. For example, once one has completed police academy, they are credentialed to be able to work in many areas of law enforcement.

A criminal justice degree also can open a wide variety of doors for the graduate. In addition, the unwritten code of honor held between all criminal justice workers, in tandem with other earned accolades, is often enough to open new career avenues within the field. This is an excellent perk to beginning work in this field of criminal justice careers.

Additional Resources

For those interested in learning more about the many criminal justice careers out there, there are many, great resources with which to followup further. The following represent some of those leading points of resource today.

Fraternal Order of Police

The Fraternal Order of Police is a very well-known organization that operates in many capacities for the criminal justice industry. This organization began in 1915 and holds over 335,000 active members. The efforts of this organization include the provision of training resources, education, a nationwide police accountability and rating system, charitable operations, and a uniting society for all police forces and officers in the country. Anyone can reach out to the FOP for more guidance into any of these areas as well as direction for how to join or become a supporter.

National Association of Police Organizations

The National Association of Police Organizations, also known as NAPO for short, is a sizable collective of officers and other industry representatives that provides many services publicly and privately alike. Visitors to the organization’s website can easily find a whole host of educational and news materials as well as links to the organization’s own current events and seminars schedule, membership info, and more. The organization’s Top Cop Award is also a great way to learn about various roles in today’s criminal justice and law enforcement system as well as those who truly excel therein and how they do it.

International Association of Chiefs of Police

The IACP, or International Association of Chiefs of Police, is another leading and quite well-known organization in the criminal justice field. As this group’s name suggests, it is comprised of the leaders in law enforcement agencies across the US. Goals of the group include general law enforcement advocacy, specific projects such as the Center for Police Research and Policy, public awareness and engagement campaigns, and the provision of emerging industry news and views. Like the other organizations listed here, the IACP is an excellent resource of inquiry for both the public and private sectors.

US Bureau of Labor Statistics

Finally, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics is yet another, excellent resource with which to inquire regarding the various careers in law enforcement and criminal justice. Here, anyone can gain instant access to current vocational statistics, ongoing career demand rates, in-depth job descriptions, and much more. The BLS is a federal government agency and is a top source for reliable figures and facts on all types of careers. The BLS also offers a variety of direct contact methods by which anyone can inquire for further information as needed.

Today, these careers are a substantial part of society. The above-mentioned roles represent just a small sample of the totality of the work done in the field of criminal justice and law enforcement.

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